Three Apple products routinely fail to appear during the company’s live events: a smartwatch, a television, and a games console.
The much-rumoured iWatch has stolen everything else’s thunder of late, but the idea of an Apple games console continues to bubble away under the surface, like grim, stinky water threatening to explode from a drain.
The main argument in favour of an Apple games system stems from the company’s success in reinventing consumer electronics. The natural conclusion people arrive at is if Apple worked wonders with music players, smartphones and tablets, surely it can do something similarly amazing with videogames.
Yet very little Apple’s achieved during the last 15 years suggests a games system’s high on the agenda. More to the point, what we’ve seen on iOS shows Apple could stumble and a bespoke games system might do more harm than good.
A chequered history
It’s unlikely today’s Apple would churn out something as grotesquely awful as the Pippin, but the only official authorised gaming hardware for iOS devices hardly smacks of a company brimming with confidence and interest in the games industry.
Third-party iOS games controllers based around official Apple specifications and - according to underground murmurings - manufacturing limitations and demands, remain badly supported and overpriced; with the odd exception, they’re also not terribly well made - a far cry from the devices they’re designed to be used with.
On the App Store, Apple has recently made some smart decisions regarding the curation of its gargantuan games selection, to help people avoid countless dreadful titles that lurk, ready to make you wish you’d instead hurled your 69p at a squirrel.
Quality collections pepper App Store pages and there’s a regular indie game showcase to surface little-known gems. However, pride of place is still often taken by grindfests designed to suck coins from your bank account, like a demented, malevolent vacuum cleaner with a cash addiction.
Apple seemingly recognises the value of games as part of a greater ecosystem, but not always the value of quality titles in and off themselves; or alternatively, it doesn’t care and is simply happy making money by foisting freemium garbage on to as many people as possible.
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A DIFFERENT KIND OF GAMING
Perhaps most importantly, the cream of iOS has always been heavy on innovation, in part due to the lack of traditional controls on touchscreen devices. And the more games I play on the iPhone or iPad, the less I clamour for traditional gaming experiences.
Perhaps it’s a question of age - wanting something new after the countless games I’ve played since first gawping in wide-eyed wonder at a Space Invaders cabinet as a kid. Or maybe I know I can grab my Vita if I want something with a D-pad and buttons. But I’d sooner immerse myself in intuitive multitouch titles such as Year Walk and Eliss Infinity, and encourage more such innovation, than hope Apple desperately tries to shoehorn iOS gaming into an Xbox- or PlayStation-shaped mould, on a relatively distant TV screen, with all the associated baggage and expectations.
Even if the company instead went with an overhauled, powered-up Apple TV that took gaming more seriously - something I’ve previously argued Apple should consider - there’s a risk of fragmentation and further clamouring for exclusives, along with additional demands on developers already struggling to cope with increasingly diverse iOS hardware.
With traditional consoles firmly entrenched in a hardcore gaming mindset, but mobile’s tendrils snugly enveloping the mainstream consumer, it’s hard to see how Apple would benefit in squaring up to Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Perhaps there’s something obvious no-one’s really considered - that ‘Aha!’ moment in gaming Apple could crack and everyone else would then clamour to copy. But maybe that’s already occurred, and no-one really noticed.
It could be we don’t need an Apple games console, because the second screen has for many already become the first; even if Apple unveiled a console tomorrow, those wedded to an Xbox or PlayStation wouldn’t budge, and those already gaming on their iPhones and iPads don’t want or need another piece of hardware anyway.